Hylton (Woodbridge, Va.) four-star linebacker and Florida State commit E.J. Levenberry is a 230-pound physical force with the brainpower to match.
At 6-foot-4, Levenberry’s long arms and legs, combined with sizeable strength, help him wreak havoc on the football field. Levenberry, who had 172 tackles this season, helped lead Hylton to the state semi-finals as the Bulldogs ended the year with an 11-1 record.
Levenberry credits the bench press and heavy squats and leg presses, along with one-on-one agility coaching from former Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, for building his explosive power and speed.
We asked the U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection what else helped him get to the top.
What was the transition like from middle school to high school football?
Levenberry: When I first walked on the field as a freshman I thought I was going to [get playing time]. But then I saw the [upperclassmen] guys were way ahead of me. I knew I had to push myself.
I had to learn the game — how to attack people’s weaknesses and different schemes to run on defense. My sophomore year, once I was acclimated in the program, you could see how much better I got.
What did you do to learn the game?
The little things basically change the game. You have to out-think your opponent. I’d watch film and break down tendencies.
What’s your film study process like?
I watch film three to four times. The first time I write down the formations of every play. After formations, I write what play they did. We look at the players and see what the players do (third time). The fourth time, we call out every play. If we don’t know every play, we go through it again until we get it right.
How has watching film this way helped elevate your game?
I can sniff out plays quicker. I know who the weakest and strongest players are. I know who is going to use the right technique. I know everything about every person on your team on your offense, and I’m going to use that to my team’s advantage.
What else do you do to improve your football smarts?
I watch Ray Lewis. He’s not the best God-given, talented linebacker out there, but he does the little things. His technique is awesome, and he knows every play.
It’s like taking a test. If you know what’s going to be on the test and study for it, you’ll get an A. But, if you don’t study for it, you’ll get a C or D. Ray Lewis is the master at that in the NFL right now.
How about in terms of physical work? Tell us what you’ve done to improve.
I’d stay after practice to run sprints. I do agility training during the offseason — ladder drills to get my feet quicker. In the summer, I trained with (former Redskins linebacker) LaVar Arrington. He taught me how to use my hands to get off blocks.
Training with a former NFL player is quite unique. What did you learn from him?
We do this Mister Miyagi thing — it’s like wax on, wax off. [LaVar] would hold a stick in each hand and call a combination of numbers, one thru five. I’d hit each side of the stick [based on the combination].
[The drill] replicates a lineman coming at you with his hands up and you’re basically pushing him out of the way so you can get to the ball. It’s definitely helped my game. This year I was getting double- and sometimes triple-teamed.
What can you share with other players who want to get to the top like you have?
Put the work in. There are a lot of athletes who are blessed with ability, but if you don’t put in hard work, someone who doesn’t have the [natural] ability, but works hard will be better than you.
If you work hard, most of the time people don’t have to find success because success will find you.